More Than Profit Needed To Claim HVAC Success
There are big companies, small companies, and ‘right-sized’ companies. Mechanical Systems Inc. can definitely call themselves a ‘right-sized’ company.
They’ve been in business for 20 years, and although they only have a staff of 25, the $10 million in revenue they earn annually places them in direct competition with companies two, even three times their size.
Thomas Hooper Sr. established the first generation of his family-owned & operated business in 1979, and with the desire to carry on the family atmosphere and culture to the second generation MSI was formed in 1995.
Today, Thomas’ son Brian Hooper is the VP of Operations, and credits his dad with building the solid foundation upon which the company has found success.
At the root of that success is the company’s core value system, which can be summed up in one word – attitude. At MSI, the positive attitude is the only one to have, and there’s certainly no room for negotiation on that.
“I can train you if you don’t have the knowledge,” Brian Hooper said. “But I can’t train you if you have a bad attitude, because those are almost always impossible to break.”
TRAINING FROM THE FOUNDATION UP
Brian believes in a bottom up approach for training staff members, recruiting many of their new employees from high schools, and training them from the very beginning.
“We’ll interview high school students in September, and we usually hire one or two a year,” he said. “We train them from September all the way through to May with the goal of offering a full-time position upon graduation.”
After four of five years of experience working with the company as a maintenance technician they must commence more in-depth 10- to- 30-hour Occupational Safety and Health courses. Then it’s off to night school two nights a week for two and a half years, followed by field training and job shadowing with experienced MSI service technicians.
Because the company is small, they rely mostly on outside sources to train their staff, like local community colleges and the local chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors but invest heavily to ensure the training is extensive, thorough and results in well-rounded employees.
ATTRACTING YOUNG PEOPLE TO THE INDUSTRY
With widespread concerns about the shortage of young people coming into the industry, MSI’s approach to training means it’s a problem they’ve avoided. But as Brian shares, it’s not as simple as going into any high school to seek out new talent. The company has a tried and tested strategy that ensures their youth recruitment program is a success.
“We looked at who our number one customer is and for us this company is located in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. We do about 20 of their buildings,” Hooper said. “Because the only way you can hire a high school student is to make sure they stay where they live.”
“Having a customer with at least 10 to 15 buildings your company does work for enables you to hire a student from a local high school co-op program,” Brian added. “And the proximity of the student’s home to the customer’s locations makes commuting easy, and a necessity if they do not own a vehicle.”
Training commences immediately, and before students hit the eight-month mark, three things become clear, Brian said. “You’ll know if that student is someone who, number one, can learn, and is teachable; number two, has the right attitude to want to learn; and number three, wants to do this for a career,” he said.
Under the co-op program the students alternate between a 40- hour work week at MSI which they get paid for, and a normal school week.
MSI has been running its School to Career Co-op Program for over a decade and would like to expand the same program throughout existing New Hampshire School Co-op programs. Through the program they have hired eight full-time students, and to date, approximately half of MSI’s employees are 26 years old, or younger. A key element of the co-op program is that it enables students who otherwise thought they wouldn’t be interested in a HVAC career to see what it actually entails, therefore allowing them to make a more informed decision for their future.
MSI IN FIVE YEARS
Three goals top the list of things to be achieved over the next five years. The first is to implement technological upgrades, including going paperless.
“My internal staff spends a majority of their time chasing down paperwork,” Brian said. “We are in the process of moving all our files and contracts to the cloud. Every single MSI employee will have an iPad. All our employees will be using a barcode system to track any equipment we service or maintain. The GPS tracking system which we are also implementing will make it easier for all our technicians to get to our customer locations and they will make it easier for the customers to keep track of where we are for their needs. The company has been working over the past six to eight months to implement this new transition, and we expect to have it fully launched by the end of 2016. It is a significant financial investment but a necessary one for any company that has a desire to move forward in the future and be in the cutting edge of technology.”
MSI’s second goal is to ramp up efforts to get the next generation of workers into the trades. Efforts to expand their School to Career Program are currently underway, and Brian hopes to have a New Hampshire School to Career Co-op Program up and running within a year.
ADVICE TO THEIR PEERS
Brian’s advice to other contractors is to join a peer group. “I think your peers can really open your eyes on how you compare your company to theirs,” he said. “They point out things that maybe you don’t want to hear, and they show weaknesses in your company that you may not even know you have. Whatever your company’s weakness, you’ve got to be open to constructive criticism, and you must be willing to make the necessary changes that will lead to success.”
One of MSI’s weak points was their lack of community involvement. MSI financially supported many local charities but they weren’t often rolling up their sleeves and getting engaged in with community. This quickly changed once they heard this feedback from their peer group.
“We weren’t really getting involved with anything that didn’t have to do with our industry,” Brian said. “I think that if you want to be one of the best companies, not just in your region, but in the country…you’ve got to be a well-rounded company.”
That was eight years ago. Today, MSI can certainly say that they are well-rounded, by being involved with more than a dozen non-profit organizations. But, one of their passions is helping local Veterans, and the best example of that is Building Dreams for Marines which is a non-profit Brian co-founded.
Building Dreams for Marine’s mission is to retrofit the homes of disabled Marines at no cost to the them or their families. In just three short years, the organization has renovated ten homes for local Marines and their families.
Now that Brian has taken full responsibility of running the day-to-day operations of MSI Mechanical he is clear about one thing; none of it would be possible without his father and family’s support.
“My father is the one who got it all started,” Brian said proudly. “And without the strong foundation he built, we wouldn’t be here. So I just want to take a moment to acknowledge and give credit to my Dad for teaching, and mentoring me,” he said.
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